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Minister of Justice Brax at the Helsinki 2010 International Seminar on Urban Safety on 21 October 2010

Ministry of Justice
Publication date 22.10.2010 8.00
Speech -

Ladies and gentlemen

The City of Helsinki has shown a great interest in the issue of safety and considers it to be one of the most important factors affecting the city's success and attractiveness. In my presentation, I will discuss the latest developments in crime prevention in Finland and describe a couple of promising crime prevention projects.

Community Contact Work-project

The Community Contact Work project in Helsinki aims to improve the residents' sense of everyday safety in the city, and to insure a pleasant living environment in the neighborhoods of Helsinki. The project involves community contact workers who travel on foot to public spaces, such as shopping centres, located in their target neighbourhoods (approx.15 neighbourhoods), where they can observe the environment, engage in discussion with residents and intervene in potential disturbances using reconciliation and verbal communication techniques.

The project started in January 2009 within the social services department of the City of Helsinki. The community contact workers serve all residents of all age groups: "ordinary" citizens as well as the marginalized ones. Workers are responsible for the outreach work among homeless people. At the same time, the workers have an important role of acting as mediators between the residents in the neighborhood and the clients at the residential units, preempting possible disorders and conflicts in the neighborhood.

The community contact workers convey real- time information on issues related to the neighborhoods or the city in general from the residents to the city and state officials and vice versa. They work in a close co-operation with the community police, and with a network of housing cooperatives, resident associations, as well as other actors and officials in their target areas.

The project employs seven people in total: a project leader and six community contact workers. All the community contact workers have an educational background in social services and an extensive work experience with diverse client groups within different areas of the social service sector.

The main goal of the project is to improve the sense of safety of the residents and other actors in the area. The residents should feel that they are a part of their neighborhood and that they know their neighbors. They should feel that it is possible to detect and discuss safety concerns as well as address any issues causing dissatisfaction in their neighborhood. Furthermore, the goal is to strengthen the participation of residents and encourage them to consider potential solutions to the problems and ways to improve the situation together with their neighbors and officials. Residents feel that they are being heard concerning issues related to their neighborhood.

The results of the reports and surveys show that the project was extremely well received by the residents as well as other actors in the target neighborhoods. It appears there had been a clear gap, which now has been filled, in how residents and service providers, as well as the city and state officials, "find each other" and exchange information. Residents feel it is important that the workers are present and easily accessible in their neighborhoods and serve all client groups. The Community Contact Work-project has been selected to represent Finland in the European Crime Prevention Award contest this year.

Neighborhood safety walks

Another innovative approach in the field of improving community safety is the so-called Neighborhood Safety Walk. The idea is to walk through the neighborhood and identify potential safety issues. The safety and security walk is a structured method that involves people in the local community in investigating both their physical and social environments. The basic idea is that those who live and are active in the local community have the greatest knowledge of it and that it is important to make use of this fact. Important points to take into account in this work are creating accessibility and a feeling of safety, as well as preventing crime. During the walk, people interact with each other which in itself creates a sense of security and feeling of togetherness in the society.

Safety and security walks involve a group of people going through an area and carrying out a systematic inventory from the point of view of safety and security. The group usually consists of residents of the area, but also representatives of local authorities, associations, housing enterprises, politicians and the police. During the inventory, a note is made of locations and areas that are felt to be insecure or at risk of becoming a scene of a crime; as well as of the actual physical circumstances contributing towards the problems. The process involves formulating proposals for solutions. The safety and security inventory can later form a basis for both big and small measures.

Although the walks are a tool for identifying locations felt to be particularly exposed and insecure, it is also important to make a note of those places felt to be secure and pleasant. This may concern lighting, attractive greenery, well-maintained footpaths, litter bins and park benches, and, as may be the case, surveillance cameras.

When it is not possible to tackle all the problems at once, one option is to concentrate on one particular theme at a time. This may involve adapting current public spaces to suit the needs of the disabled population, or it may mean tackling the issue of graffiti, or investigating the safety concerns in dark areas, or how to increase the number of green areas in an urban space. Safety walks have recently been carried out in various parts of Finland such as in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Rovaniemi. A manual on how to conduct safety walks will be drawn up by the National Council of Crime Prevention based on Swedish experiences.

Residents' participation in crime prevention has been increasingly popular in the Nordic countries and in Estonia. Neighborhood watch encourages residents to look out for suspicious activities and report these to the police. This increases informal social control and might have a deterrent effect on potential offenders who might perceive that surveillance by residents increases their risks of being caught. It might also have the effect of providing the police with useful information which might lead to successful arrests and convictions.

Neighbourhood watch has gained popularity for example in Sweden, were a "softer" version of this approach has been adopted. Even the title "grannsamverkan" (neighbourhood cooperation) indicates that cooperation between the residents is at least as important as the surveillance. Residents' participation leads often to stable groups of active and energetic people, which can be used as a partnership organization in crime prevention projects such as safety walks.

A meta-analysis conducted in Sweden concludes that across all studies neighborhood watch has been followed by a reduction in crime, although little is known about the factors that influence the degree of effectiveness. Neighbourhood watch might serve to increase surveillance, reduce opportunities for crime or enhance informal social control. After all, it has become clear that the existing evidence justifies the continueduse of the neighborhood watch.

Crime prevention through environmental design

Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is a multi-disciplinary approach to deter criminal behavior. The strategies rely upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede the criminal acts. Criminal behavioral research shows that the decision to offend is most influenced by the cues to the perceived risk of being caught. The proper design and effective use of the built environment can reduce crime, reduce the fear of crime, and improve the quality of life.

In Finland, a promising project has been launched by the Ministry of the Environment and Aalto University. This project will produce a web-based manual aimed at architects and city planners to help them take into consideration safety issues when designing living environments and buildings. The goal of this project is to create easily accessible web pages where the relevant information has been gathered in a perceptual format. In future, the data will be used as a training material in the education of architects at Aalto University. The project should be finalized during the next year.

One significant implementation of the design-based crime prevention in Finland is the detailed safety-oriented city plan of the Muotiala Area in Tampere. Muotiala is the first area in Finland where a detailed city plan is used systematically in taking into account the goal of safety in the built environment. Safety is deliberately taken into account in the regulations for lighting plans, landscape planning and instructions for the methods of construction. Safety goals are also implemented inside the detailed town plan. For instance, pedestrian walkways and building masses are located in a way that promotes natural surveillance. Furthermore, areas with "no-man's land" characteristics have been minimized. The fulfillment of the goals was monitored in the construction permit processes by means of the so-called building plot utilization plansthat stipulate certain conditions for the assignment of the building plots to the developers. The creation of a safe environment was a central theme in the cooperation with the residents from the very beginning of the process. The residents of the city were being heard in an interactive planning process. You will hear about many other promising examples of crime prevention through environmental design during this seminar.

Fight against organised crime

During the recent years, there have been strong indications that the focus in criminal activities is changing. In addition to the traditional drug trafficking and debt recovery, criminal groups have begun to use legitimate business operations in their activities, particularly in the construction sector.

The emerging interest in sub-contracting in the construction sector among criminal groups engaged in serious professional crime gives cause to anticipate that these groups are using ostensibly legitimate business to cover forms of financial crime typical of the construction sector, such as fake receipts, tax fraud, and the brokerage and use of companies with short life spans and illegal labour. It is common for criminal activities to be concealed behind long chains of sub-contractors and dummy companies. Increasingly, labour is being brought from abroad, particularly from countries in the area of the former Soviet Union. The procurement and brokering of foreign labour are managed by organised crime abroad, and this heightens the risk of the spreading of criminal culture and corruption.

Organised crime should be combated in all possible levels. National and international cooperation between the authorities in combating organised crime should be enhanced. A new innovative method in Finland and in some other EU countries is the administrative approach to organised crime. This means combining measures and knowledge of different authorities and undermining the prerequisites for the organised criminality. The administrative approachto organized crime is in line with the recent developments in the context of situational crime prevention. Intervention strategies aim at eliminating opportunities for committing crime and money laundering. The combating of organised crime should be based on a broad-based, real-time situational awareness which will be used for planning, scaling and harmonizing, both nationally and internationally, the prevention measures planned by various authorities. The prevention measures include the unification of the methods of working and databases and harmonizing the procedural legislation.

The recent problems of the free mobility of people

In recent years, particularly since the summer of 2007, foreign beggars have started appearing in the centers of our biggest cities. Street begging is partly connected with the enlargement of the European Union on 1 January 2007, and with the right of free movement. Street beggars are, as a rule, Roma people from Romania.

A working group set up by the Ministry of the Interior is calling for an amendment to the law on public order that would ban professional begging in public places. The working group also proposes that organized begging and illegal camping should be criminalized. According to the report, a ban would reduce the number of beggars coming to Finland, and prevent the organization, coercion and activities that show characteristics of human trafficking from taking root.

A lively discussion is going on about this issue in Finland. Yesterday the government agreed that it shares the opinion that begging should not be criminalized. However, the police should take closer look on the organized forms of the begging and an amendment should be made to the law on public order act to define aggressive begging more clearly. Also the regulations concerning camping in public areas should be clarified.

The right to free movement across the region is a fundamental freedom in the EU. If begging is linked to organised crime, regular legal avenues can be applied as an intervention. Solutions need to be in terms of social policy and not just discussing banning or criminalizing poverty. Furthermore, the problem should be addressed at the EU level. The Foreign Minister of Finland Mr Stubb has called on EU member states to earmark funds for the Roma during upcoming budget negotiations. He proposed the creation of mutual funds and a greater emphasis on training for the Roma.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to congratulate the City of Helsinki for organizing this seminar now for the second time. The first seminar last year concentrated on the issues of the free movement of people within the European Union. Now the approach is broader and tackles urban safety as an important factor in the well-being of city dwellers. I'm convinced that the forthcoming days in this seminar will include interesting lectures, active group work and personal contacts. I hope you all enjoy your visit and time spent in Helsinki!

Thank you!

Tuija Brax
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